Sunday, December 8, 2013

This old man, he plays . . .

There is a song, the words of which say, “This old man, he plays one . . .” and those lyrics popped into my head while I was working on the stamps for the printmaking game, “WeeWoodie Rembrandt Press.” I thought about Confucius’ advice that said, “Better to play games than do nothing at all.” That was advice in reference to what a person can do in their old age.
As I try to think of ways to restore my lost career as a teacher—what I had become when I was at the University of Washington School Of Art—I find that career is probably lost forever. In a country where teachers—and especially professors—are as much maligned as they are valued, how can it be otherwise?
I watched a video on TED talks, of Kiran Sethi, titled “Kids Take Charge,” and it brought tears of joy to my eyes to see this teacher, who started Riverside School in India doing so well with so little. Her talk is part of a series of inspiring lectures from around the world, assembled by Pearl Arrendondo.
After I watched this ten-minute video, I turned back to my project—adding words to 51 images taken from my video of assembling a WeeWoodie Rembrandt Press. I am making them into stamp images, which I will print out and . . . and . . . I don’t know what will be the next step. It is, after all, only a game.
When Lynda, my wife, plays solitaire on her tablet, she doesn’t think about being productive or that the result of her game will add up to anything. Although the programmers for this digital game have added a few bells and whistles such as keeping score, these are not important to her. Whoever wrote down the length of time it took to win a game of Solitaire using real cards, on a piece of real paper? People play games for the fun of it, to pass the time doing something; better to play games than do nothing at all.
Yet, the contrast between what people like Pearl Arrendondo and Kiran Sethi are attempting and achieving and what I am about is too great for me to ignore. What can I do about it? I think about it all the time. The skill to make these stamps, if you trace back the steps that have been required to get to this point, and the desire to make a game out of Rembrandt’s achievements has taken me fifty years.
Surely, it must amount to something. If I could transport myself to Riverside School, and show Kiran Sethi our mini etching presses, and ask if it would be possible to make presses like this for 1% the 2 hundred million children in India, and grow a profitable company from this and put money back into education, would she say yes? She would turn to one of the children in her school, and that child would say, “I can.”
Can I not do this in the USA? Is it my impression, or is it true, that our children would not be able to reply in the same way as Ms. Sethi’s students. Why is it my impression that in order to grow a company to make presses and related products for kids I have to spend hours at my computer designing a game, or taking time to make a DVD for the Brooklyn Art Museum, or autograph and package gifts for my associates in the Halfwood Press venture?
In the design of the presses and the theories about learning printmaking—and justification for that learning—there is a gift, given to me by hundreds of people I met in the course of my fifty years in art and teaching. My fear is that I will be the cause of the loss of this gift; it would take someone five years to do what I have done in 50 years if they would study what I am doing at the moment and, like an engineer, reverse the process to get at the essence and value of what it is that I have achieved.

If I find this person, or a coven of people, who could see the value of my work, then I would win Emeralda: Games for the gifts of life.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Molly-coddled Seniors, beware . . .

In our ‘seventies today, my wife and I have many friends of similar age, but the majority of our friends and acquaintances are a few years younger and they make up the Baby Boomer population. Quite a number are financially well-off, sufficiently that they spend their retirement traveling and otherwise enjoying the fruits of their years of employment. A number of them have two homes—one in Washington and one in Arizona. Their seasonal greeting cards have letters enclosed, bragging about the accomplishments of their children and grandchildren. We enjoy these, but we also are concerned. There are danger signs, and I want to mention these and then suggest alternatives to the course that our generation is on.
Primarily this has to do with global issues, and these are huge. Our generations, the “wisdom boomers,” I call the Baby Boomers and ours (born in the early ‘40s, a little ahead of the curve) are having a good time, but we should think ahead. We have Social Security and a Professor’s Pension coming in and both of these are at risk if we fail to ensure the education of young citizens of the USA. We can ensure the learning preparedness of the very young, and we can invest some of our money and intellectual capital in education for all.
I think our friends who are over 50 are being taken down a primrose path by, among others, the entertainment industry. My theory (call it conspiracy if you like) is that US Americans are encouraged to consume as much as possible in order to keep US Industry going and keep Americans employed. It’s like a timber company encouraging everyone to cut down trees to keep the sawmill going, blind to the inevitable barren hills that will result.
Our traveling friends seem not to give a second thought to hopping on a jet to travel, often for the most trivial reasons—a birthday party, a round of golf, or a cruise. I’m afraid this happens in my own family, too. The “carbon footprint” was a popular expression for awhile, but it fails to stop the enormous consumption of fossil fuels. This is an environmental issue. It is ironic that conservation is taught in the schools, but the lessons do not seem to come home.
This is all old news and if you have read this far, I am preaching to the choir; and I don’t think anyone is going to cancel their plans for a winter trip to Mexico or Hawaii just because I’m writing these things down. Everyone knows these things.

Your Social Security and Retirement plan is an education issue

Young people are alone in paying money into your social security for as long as the current system is in force. Young people, as the wage-earners of tomorrow, are alone in paying into retirement plans of various kinds—their own and ours, too.
Social Security has been around since 1935 and is always under discussion as to its liquidity and viability. Retirement plans are generally based on US Business and Industry plus the value of the dollar on the world money market. These all depend on the employment of US Americans, and as competition for productive work grows with the growing world population, no one will get the paying jobs merely because they are US Citizens. American youth will have to compete, albeit indirectly, for the jobs paying the most money and, hence, put the most money into social security and retirement plans for us Seniors.
If children in other countries come out of school ready to work before US American children are ready to work, the jobs will go to those other children. They will pay into their tax systems, wherever they are, and their industrial base will get the benefits of those children’s educations. The country with the best education system wins.

Senior requirement

Seniors in the USA are required to invest in education if they want their future dollars to be worth much on the world market, their Social Security checks to keep coming, and their retirement funds to keep paying their pensions. If US American youth are not as well educated as foreign children are, they will not get the best jobs. If US American youth are educated in the wrong way (such as training in over-spending, high consumption of resources and wasting valuable, early education years), they will work for foreigners at lower-paying jobs, and their lower salaries will yield lower Social Security input and poorer retirement funds for themselves. Industry will suffer, which will, in turn, be reflected in lower payouts from pension plans.

Exit plan

When industry needs new ideas, methods and products, it has been effective in the past to innovate, invent, discover and imagine new industries or change old ones to meet the changing times. In pursuit of new ideas—especially new ideas that will create new jobs for youth—entrepreneurs are encouraged to come forward with innovative new businesses. As a former teacher, an artist and designer of new art-making products and recreational learning games, I qualify as an entrepreneur.
From this role I am acquainted with financing methods for new businesses—from bank loans and equity investments (which I have used) to venture capital—so I know what “exit plan” means. Investors want to know what the entrepreneur plans to do if and when the company succeeds. Will he quit and move on to another venture? Or, what if he dies? Is the entrepreneur indispensable, or does he or she just think so?
There is another kind of exit plan which you don’t hear people talk about, and that is the self-made man’s exit plan. No one needs to tell me if it is time to quit; I am not one of those stubborn-heads that insists on running the show even though he or she may be running the show out of town. If a CEO is bad, the company will go down. Venture capitalists have good reason to assume control of a venture if their combined wisdom says it will protect their investment and grow profits.

The USA Venture

American capitalism is a kind of venture, but it is not the only kind of economic model. Education of the young is the only kind of model that has a chance to succeed, and without learning the lessons of education, an entire country’s economy can fail. We don’t want the USA to go down in history as a lesson in what happens when the educational infrastructure of a country fails to take into account this reality.
What seniors can do is invest more in education, not in more consumerism. It is a fallacy—a reckless gamble—to think that consuming more fossil fuels and leisure lifestyles will help US industrial growth and a secure economic outlook. The traveler who thinks his or her fare to Mexico will help the young people of America get a better education while they are enjoying the beach is a fool. The “snow birds” who think their winter-time trip to Arizona is somehow good for the economy and only a little damaging to the environment are fools, too.
If you argue, I will argue that kids in Korea, for example, are spending enormous amounts of time in school and minimal amounts in consumerism. What are they studying at with such industry? Could it be that they know something we adults don’t know? Could it be that they are learning things that US American kids are not learning, and—like us adults—don’t know? I wonder if the word is out that those crazy Americans are burning up the world’s resources and everybody else better be learning what to do about it and how.
Could you learn how to change American consumer patterns in a foreign school? US children seldom learn more than one language—English—so it will be hard for us to talk about it with foreigners. It already is, in fact, almost impossible.

I wanted to write my exit plan, and that is to get a factory school going where US American kids can take the lead in learning some art methods and also learn about running a factory making things for those art methods. And then I want to leave this factory school in the hands of young people, who can make it succeed where I have only failed.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Job Destoyer

Reverse engineering

Reverse engineering is the process by which an item—anything from a mousetrap to a combat jet fighter—can be taken apart and designed from the pieces so as to end up with a replica without the need for design and testing. When I was a little kid, I liked to take things apart to see how they work. Clocks, wind-up toys, and—one time—a toy dump truck. It was when I took apart the toy dump truck that I learned something about Post-World War II reconstruction in Japan. The truck was made in Japan from tin that had been a Folgers Coffee can, evident from what I found printed inside the shell of the truck.
This was not as much an example of reverse engineering as it was a blend of that and a lesson in economic development. The lesson was that if there is a market for, say, toy tin dump trucks and you have a supply of empty coffee cans and willing hands, you can provide jobs and income from the customers for toys. Japanese families could not, at that time, afford to buy their kids toys like this, but the Americans could, and we know that the effort to restore the Japanese economy was successful. I was one of the lucky American kids who, in 1947, at age 6, got the toy.
The story continued in a way because today I am able to think through the events that gave me the toy truck and I experienced the desire to take it apart, see how it was assembled (I still remember the little tin tabs and slots that made it easy to take apart and put back together). Also, I remember my surprise at seeing the Folgers label—the same tin can that was on our kitchen shelf—inside the truck. Of course, the truck was “Made in Japan” and although I didn’t know anything about postwar reconstruction, the tin can had come full circle with an economic benefit for the Japanese and Americans both.

How to destroy jobs

We need jobs in the USA for Americans, according to what I hear and see on TV from many sources. We need job creation. And when people think that jobs are being sent overseas, then we think this is wrong because we need people to be employed here—not abroad. Of course, every country wants policies that help its people do meaningful and profitable work so we have education programs, training and sustainability measures.
Job creation is an interesting idea—to make a job where one did not exist before. For example, I have a job. But as I do my job I know that I am putting someone out of work because it is a job that anyone can do. This morning, when this concept of destroying jobs came into my head, I was gluing a label on a box. It’s something anyone could do—from an average 8-year old kid to an older person with some disability that made this task a reasonable one.
The problem with hiring someone is that I had only four boxes to paste labels on; besides, after training the person (which would take about 15 minutes followed up by some checking for quality) they would be done in less than a half hour. The other problem is that only one person, at this moment, is ready to buy the box and its contents, and the hourly labor would take about 12% of the gross net—just for this label! This does not include the cost of printing the label or, working back to my earlier work, the design of the label.
The cost of research and development for this box is a factor to consider in this job, for if it had not been for the ten years of product development that preceded the labeling of this box, then there would be no job.
I am at fault for not developing the business so that labeling boxes for, say, one-thousand boxes is a job that no person—young, old, handicapped or any person at all—will get to execute for a salary or contract. Instead, I struggle every day, as I have for years, trying to find a co-founder who is the business person in this venture. And when I am not searching, I am doing menial tasks—job destroying as I go.
There are at least 1,000 people in the USA alone who would buy this box for its contents, a Do-It-Yourself etching press for under $1,000. But, for lack of capital to contract for preparing the boxes at a price commensurate with the retail price, the job of labeling the box is not created.

Reverse engineer this

To apply the process of reverse engineering, take the size of the market and determine what the value of job creation is. The press that goes in the box is only one of six presses in the line of presses that I designed and sold to 130 people to date, for prices ranging from $500 in 2004 for the smallest, introductory models to a high of $4,500 today for the largest model we make.
Find the size of the market by sampling the demographics—the people who bought the presses. There is the former pilot, a woman, who is active as an artist and in her community. There is the retired police chief from Chicago, who paid an added amount of money for his press so he could have Number 100. There is the publisher of a national paper on fine art printmaking who, despite that she already has a $5,000 etching press, wanted a small one and exchange an advertisement in her paper and will write a review of the press. There is the man who flew from England to Seattle to learn how to make the press himself, and then went back to establish a workshop like mine to make and sell presses in the UK. A woman bought a used press and is exploring an “experience” type of service of Printmaking Birthday parties. In Canada, a woman is studying the feasibility of being the Canadian distributor and providing hands-on press making workshops based on my kit.
From the demographic, I estimated, in 2008, the potential number of people who would buy our presses to about 400,000 in the USA alone. I have sold presses in 12 foreign countries, too, in countries such as Singapore (2 presses), with a large population and high incomes.
The presses two attractive aspects: Its looks and its functionality. It won an international design competition in Italy last year in the “Unexpected Design” category for its design and also for its inclusion of an online educational feature.
This is why, whenever I find myself responding to an order for a press, I feel like I am destroying jobs for people who, if a business person developed this enterprise to the scale to which it can grow, would work for this company in Seattle.